Both of the state’s major-party leaders came out big winners in this week’s primaries. They could breathe loud sighs of relief Tuesday night as the unofficial results came in. For the top operatives, the center held, the plans worked, turnout was adequate for their purposes, and partisan normalcy reigned.
Gov. Kathy Hochul culled nearly 68% of the statewide Democratic vote. In New York City, the party’s main engine room, Hochul won 60% despite Public Advocate Jumaane Williams’ presence on the ballot. She also won Nassau County, the base of rival Rep. Tom Suozzi, with 62%.
On the Republican side, Rep. Lee Zeldin captured a 44% plurality for governor, convincingly beating previous nominee Rob Astorino (19%), moderate businessman Harry Wilson (15%), and Rudy Giuliani's son Andrew (22%).
One might say this is no great accomplishment for either camp. But it’s not to be dismissed, either; the record shows repeated instances in which the party leadership’s designation of preference for a candidate failed miserably.
In 2010, former Rep. Rick Lazio from Suffolk County lost a GOP primary shocker to foul-mouthed Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino, now known best as a Donald Trump supporter and adviser. Andrew M. Cuomo crushed Paladino in the general election with 63% of the vote.
Ironically, Paladino this year is fighting GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy, himself a firm Donald Trump loyalist, for a congressional seat. That contest plays out Aug. 23 when primary voters return to the polls to pick congressional and state Senate nominees. Infighting can be especially destructive for Republicans whose number of registrants in the state has fallen behind that of voters with no party affiliation at all.
For Democrats in this week's primary, winning meant fending off insurgents supported by the Working Families Party, starting at the top with Williams. Jay Jacobs, who is Hochul’s state chairman from Nassau County, cited the fact that in the city, seven incumbent Assembly members survived WFP-backed challenges.
The Hochul team also dodged a bullet when Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado, who succeeded the indicted and ousted Brian Benjamin, got 61%, comfortably fending off WFP preference Ana Maria Archila. Her potential pairing with Hochul on the November ticket panicked party regulars, if only because it would affirm GOP charges of scary radicalism against the larger party.
No Democratic player forgets 2018 when an unknown newcomer named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ousted Rep. Joe Crowley, the Queens Democratic chairman with seniority and clout in the House. Ever since, the “regulars” have been on high alert. AOC, now seeking and likely to win a third term, backed several of the unsuccessful Assembly insurgencies that NYC Mayor Eric Adams, like Jacobs and Speaker Carl Heastie, opposed.
Next month's second round of primary contests, forced by this year's redistricting challenges, promises to be more unusual. The map redrawn by an expert from Pittsburgh has created Democratic rivalries that wouldn't otherwise exist, such as veteran Rep. Jerrold Nadler from Manhattan's West Side facing Rep. Carolyn Maloney from the borough's East Side.
New York House races could affect the balance of party power in Washington. On the whole, they might just make the state-level skirmishes look relatively calm. But as party regulars know, predictions these days have never been more hazardous to make.
Columnist Dan Janison's opinions are his own.